Quickfire five with Rachel Atherton

"I don’t have anything left to prove to myself or to anybody"

The start of 2017 will be a strange one for Rachel Atherton. On the one hand she has nothing left to prove, her perfect season last year will go down as one of the greatest achievements of any sport last year – as shown by her Laureus and BT Action Woman accolades. On the other hand, she’s a woman with a target on her back, no doubt all her competitors will want to be the first to say, “I beat Rachel.”

Rachel herself has been playing down expectations all off-season. She claims she’s just here for the ride this year, unshackling herself from two years (or more) of pressure and expectation. But there’s one thing for sure, nobody with her competitive drive and inner determination will want to be beaten without putting up a fight.

We caught up with Rachel on the plane over to Lourdes about her thoughts on the season ahead:

Now the dust has settled on last season, how do you look back on it?

Even now so many months later it still doesn’t quite seem real, in a way it seems even less real as the new season gets closer and closer! There were so many things that could have gone wrong on every run and the others were pressing me so hard, Tahnee was only 0.7 back at Lenzerheide, and I didn’t win the qualifying at Lourdes, or Fort William, or Vallnord. Somehow that gave me extra power in the Finals!

I think I’m quite good at tapping into negative energy and making it work for me – Dan Brown says that if there isn’t a problem before my race run I’ll invent one! Before World Champs I was so stressed, I took time out to say goodbye to the rainbow stripes, then winning was just total joy and disbelief! When I realised that it made it the Perfect Season – wow! I know that I’ll never forget it…

How is your bike feeling coming into 2017? Have you made any major changes from last year?

No, no big difference. I’ve been riding the Trek Session for a full year now. I really gelled with it from the off but it ‘s never an easy transition. We spent so much time getting the bike right before the 2016 season started and the guys at the Trek Race Shop were amazing at listening to our feedback then doing whatever it took to make me feel comfortable. That closeness continued right through 2016 and this winter we’ve worked with them again at the same level of intensity, testing, testing but it’s not like there were any huge changes.

Nick Grantham has come on board as the new coach. What has he brought to your off season?

Killer sprint sessions, Cockney charm, and brutal honesty! There’s a lot of banter. Nick works with more “mainstream” sports from football, basketball and gymnastics, and importantly for me he has worked with a lot of top female athletes!

We’ve been training for mountain biking for so long that a fresh approach and a new set of eyes is just what’s needed to help take me to the next level physically. From the off-set we’ve had a really good relationship– he doesn’t see the Perfect Season – he just sees what needs to improve!

In previous interviews you’ve said that you don’t think you’ll have a Perfect Season again. Why is that? Has that attitude changed at all now we’re closer to the races?

I said in an interview the other day that I’m going to enjoy racing more this year, relax, look around, catch up with all our friends on the circuit. I actually meant it but they wrote something like “ as if anyone’s going to fall for that!”

But sooner or later the rest of the field will catch me up and somebody will overtake me. And that is OK. What drives me now is different to two years ago. I feel like I don’t have anything left to prove to myself or to anybody… but I stay motivated to win because I do hate to lose!

How much of an eye do you have on 41 wins and ACC’s record?

I can’t think that far ahead! I’m on 33 World Cup wins right now and there are seven rounds in 2017 so it can’t happen this season. Anne Caro Chausson is an absolute hero. I guess you should ask me again if I get up to 40 World Cup wins!

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